Let’s talk about a person I know you never tire of hearing about (wink wink)—the Proverbs 31 Woman. The be-all, end-all of women. That perfect wife, mother and daughter we will never be. Except wait. Maybe that’s not supposed to be our takeaway after all.
Rebekah Montgomery shares her heartache after hearing yet another Mother's Day sermon on the Proverbs 31 Woman. “The more I listened, the more depressed I became. If the preacher would have told me that the Virtuous Woman wore a size 8, I think I would have given up on the spot. I would never measure up. Unless I dressed the kids the night before and stored them in Tupperware I couldn’t even get to church on time — let alone doing all that spinning, running a vineyard, and being noble.”
It’s on the heels of discouraging sermons like this that Rachel Held Evans writes, 3 Things You Might Not Know about Proverbs 31. She opens her post by saying, “Every year, on the Monday after Mother’s Day I receive a flood of messages from women who spent yesterday morning grimacing through yet another Proverbs 31 sermon.” With women like Rebekah in mind, Evans has three reminders for us about this final chapter of Proverbs.
First, she reminds us that Proverbs 31 is a poem, meant to remind us of what “wisdom looks like in action.” It’s not meant to be read as a to-do list, but as a celebration of everyday women faithfully performing everyday tasks.
Second, the target audience isn’t primarily women, it’s men. The Jewish men would “memorize the passage and sing it as a song of praise to the women in their lives,” Evans writes. She also notes that the only instruction in the poem is directed to the men, “Praise her for all her hands have done.”
Third, Proverbs 31 celebrates valor. Evans writes, “[V]alor isn’t about what you do, but how you do it. If you are a stay-at-home mom, be a stay-at-home mom of valor. If you are a nurse, be a nurse of valor. If you are a CEO, a pastor, or a barista at Starbucks, if you are rich or poor, single or married—do it all with valor. That’s what makes you a Proverbs 31 Woman, not creating a life worthy of a Pinterest board.”
At the end of her piece, Rachel Held Evans reminds us of another virtuous woman- Ruth. “Ruth is identified as a woman of valor, not because checked off some Proverbs 31 to-do list by getting married, keeping a clean house and producing children, but because she lived her life with incredible bravery, wisdom, and strength. She lived her life with valor.”
So it’s not about the to-do list, not about living up to some unattainable level of perfection. What makes us virtuous women is the integrity and strength we bring to whatever role we’re in.
Kelly Givens is the editor of iBelieve.com.